George Jacob FRCGS is the President & CEO of Bay Ecotarium- the largest non-profit watershed conservation group in San Francisco Bay Area with seven branches, including Aquarium of the Bay, Sea Lion Center, Bay Academy, Studio Aqua, Bay Model, Eco-Xpeditions and the Bay Institute, celebrating its 40th year in environmental advocacy.
It is rare to find square or cuboid forms in nature- be it with living human and animal forms or the inanimate world. Yet somehow, with all our technology and know-how, we tend to gravitate to cuboid rectangular polygonous rooms and buildings, that offer easy construction solutions and maximum space-function quotient. From the cosmetic expression of nature-inspired design, the dialog on form is beginning to give more credence to function.
Organic osmosis is making its presence felt with an experiential design inspired by nature. Biomimetics is unlocking the viability of design principles, exploring structural stability, engaging sustainable materiality, harnessing energy efficiencies and mimicking nature in amazingly unprecedented ways, blending form and function.
Iconography has left its sacred frame and permeated public space to be rendered, revered and remembered, as timeless temples of time transcending geometry and geography -creating its own poetry of line and light.
In some ways, biomimicry is not a modern notion. It has existed through history with humans experimenting with sacred geometry, movement of the sun, testing the tensile strength of materials and engaging the elements of wind, water and soil to conceive and construct dwellings, monuments, shelters and ceremonial markers. The earth offers an unparalleled Wikipedia of design solutions evolved and perfected over 3.8 billion years. Not many know that the 1887 Eiffel Tower in Paris was inspired by the Femur- human thigh bone. With the internal steel braces emulating the trabecula within the femur, the flared base of the bone joint helps withstand windshear and structural integrity of the Tower.
From the bird-wing inspired the kinetic design of Calatrava for the Milwaukee Art Museum to the crows-nest inspired 2008 Olympic Stadium in Beijing with its ETFE façade (Ethyl Tetrafluoroethylene) that provides acoustic insulation, sunlight cover and reduces structural deadload on the roof, biomimicry is also being studied for aerodynamics, power generation, mobility, living systems, fastening mechanism, organic growth and integration with the environment. Termite mounds offered the perfect solution to the bark façade of the Council House 2 Building in Melbourne, Australia to control natural convection, thermal mass and ventilation stacks separated by a dermis and epidermis layers of functional occupancy.
At the Bay Ecotarium in San Francisco, a biomimetic façade is being planned to generate power using California species of microalgae. The bio-adaptive façade is designed so that algae in the photo bio-reactors mounted on the vertical walls grow in sunlight not only produce biomass that can subsequently be harvested, but they also capture solar thermal heat to power the living Climate Resilience and Ocean Conservation Living Museum and Aquarium building as a clean source of renewable energy.
The genius of the biomimetic design is in its adaptability, materiality and simplicity. With minimalism driving the heart of intuitive human engagement, clutter is giving way to invisible inventiveness. These elements are increasingly visible in design philosophies driving some of the most successful iconic engineered products from commercial aircraft dynamics to an ergonomically enigmatic i-phone and its evolving ecosystem of avatars. From product design to apparel to space configurations, biomimicry is increasingly permeating all realms of creativity. It is now beginning to transcend conventional levels of mechanical and functional adaptations to relying on emotional and user interface-driven data touchpoints enabled through machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.